Don Santana’s paintings open our eyes into the often unseen heritage of the Badjao, T’boli, Manobo, and to the rich and colorful cultures of our indigenous peoples. For this interview, Don, a full-time math professor shares how a trip in an art town inspired him to enter a life-journey into becoming an artist.
Traveler on Foot: Your art is about the different faces of ethnic groups in the Philippines. Please tell us about your art?
Don Santana: Let me explain it this way. I love my culture. I think I’m doing this art greatly because I want people, especially Filipinos to see the beauty of my culture.
TOF: Where did you have your formal art lessons? What is the most important lesson did you learn from your teacher?
Don Santana: First, I came from a family of comics illustrators. Mar T. Santana and associates is my first orientation in art. My father was also part of that associate. That is where I’ve learned drawing.
I’ve learned colors and painting thru the workshop of Fernando Sena then most of them are from small talks with fellow artists, watching documentary, and reading books especially (about) Philippine art.
TOF: Artists’ blood runs in you. Tell us something about your childhood, a time when you were discovering about art.
Don Santana: The craving for art I think really started when I joined the art club in high school then we had an art field trip in Angono. I saw the works of Botong (Carlos Francisco) and Aban (Salvador Juban), and the family of artist (Pitok Blanco?) I forgot the name. I think that was the time I said to myself I wanted to be an artist.
The problem was my father doesn’t want me to get fine arts. That was a big blow to me. The worst years of my life was not doing art.
TOF: A part of the idea of becoming an artist was inspired by a travel to Angono. What subjects or themes did you start drawing then?
Don Santana: Philippine history until I enrolled in Sena. I have to do still life, landscapes. etc. Kasi he told me that I need to refine first my talent before doing other things or finding my identity in art.
There was a time also I did abstract after reading and watching the documentary of (Jackson) Pollock but after watching the documentary of American art, that changed my philosophy.
TOF: You were in Fernando Sena’s art class. What is the most important lesson did you learn from him?
Don Santana: Color theory and combination and humility (smiles).
TOF: What is like being in Sena’s class?
Don Santana: A start of a dream and a journey. (He) will teach you the very basic. (He) will make your foundation solid.
TOF: In art classes with Sena you learned about color theory, you painting still life and landscape. How did it lead to the subjects we see now? Ethnic groups.
Don Santana: How to use color combinations. It is still my basis but the subjects are more on research and reading.
TOF: Before you got into painting ethnic groups? Have your tried other styles like cubism, abstract, or other styles?
Don Santana: Abstract. Only abstract.
TOF: Who are your favorite artists?
Don Santana: Local of course my mentor Sena, Nune (Nunelucio Alvarado), and Fil dela Cruz. Foreign Pollock, (Gustav) Klimt, and (Daniel) Ambross. Classic, Rembrandt.
TOF: Let’s talk about the current art scene. They say that the artists today are luckier because anyone can be an artist. Can you comment on this?
Don Santana: I think every artist in his era have issues. Art has no end. That is why there are certainties and uncertainties. Law of nature.
TOF: How do you see yourself in the years to come as an artist and your art?
Don Santana: Doing the same advocacy. Promote the color of my culture. I hope to live for the next 30 years but I want my art and its mission to live for centuries.